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Make your point

Make your point

Issue 8 Nov / Dec 2004

First Published on November/December 2004

To access the issue page, click here 


"It’s the one-a-week rule: that every week, every person should make their voice heard in some way, from calling a radio station, to fi ring an email to a newspaper, to just having a conversation with a friend or colleague radio station, to fi ring an email to a newspaper, to just having a conversation with a friend or colleague

In Egypt, shrugging the shoulders is an essential part of conversation. It’s practically a way of life. Together with a light click of the tongue and a barely perceptible shake of the head, Egyptians have a stoical vocabulary that has allowed them to accept millennia of change. Of course shoulder-shrugging isn’t confi ned to Egypt (as anyone who’s ever tried to complain to an Italian will know), just as there’s a form of stoicism, that ability to show self-control in the face of problems, peculiar to the British. For Muslims watching and reading the media of this country, it’s often a short step from accepting stoicism to exasperated resignation. It can really look that bad. “The Muslims are coming…” is the subtext (and occasionally the headline) to so many stories, with the second part of the sentence, variously, “…to convert us all/raise your taxes/eat your children.” Muslims, it appears, are busy people.

There’s a cartoonish fear and even hatred from some sections of the media towards Muslims – a fear so outrageously cartoonish, it should be a laughing matter.

Except it’s not. Not for those women who have been spat at and had their hijabs pulled off. Not for those coarsely stopped and searched by the police. And, maybe, most of all not for those silent multitudes who live with an uncomfortable nagging sense – not quite fear, not quite sadness – that they just don’t belong, constantly interpreting indifferent looks as hostility. This is a big story, and the media are only one part of it, but the part most likely to elicit collective shoulder-shrugging. At its height, the rhetoric can seem so total, so overwhelming, it’s the natural thing to switch off, turn the page, keep your head down and move on. No. Look again and see how fleeting the news is. How quickly cheers become boos, fame infamy. And realise the feeling the whole country is listening to your opponents, silently nodding along, is false.

It doesn’t matter whether you would like to ban fox-hunting and are enraged by the acres of pro-hunting coverage some of the papers are running, or you’re anti-war and can barely restrain the urge to shout “What are you talking about?” every time another toe-the-line jobsworth is wheeled out; whatever your cause, there are times you fi nd yourself on the wrong side of the screaming lieutenants who pose as the gatekeepers of the silent majority. Whichever side of the debate you fi nd yourself on now, you have to recognise that it is a debate. It’s a dialogue. And it’s on-going. There is literally all to play for. Those people who are listened to now, are not always going to be listened to. Their arguments are not always going to be given airtime.

But the only way that change will come about is through participation, through readers and viewers making their voices heard, correcting the media, congratulating them, holding them to account. Not just the media that they read regularly, but all media. It’s the one-a-week rule: that every week, every person should make their voice heard in some way, from calling a radio station, to fi ring an email to a newspaper, to just having a conversation with a friend or colleague. It’s those emails, those letters, those conversations, day in, day out, that shape public opinion.

In a way, changing public opinion is as simple as reaching out to the person next to you. There are many websites that tell you how to write or talk to the media; there are groups and email alert lists you can join. If the rise of the internet has given society anything (apart from full-colour glimpses into its slimy underbelly), it is the opportunity for everyone to make their voice heard.

The reluctance to get involved comes from a feeling that the media is somehow the property of other people; that even though there are many Muslims who watch Eastenders, it is somehow aimed at a different audience. But it is not. The media belongs, quite simply, to its audience, and if you are part of that audience, you have the right to make your feelings heard. It should be a discussion: every producer and editor wants to make their product the best; their audience has a role to play in that.

And more than a role: an obligation. It is an obligation for audiences to be more than passive receivers; an obligation to watch as much as you are watched, to talk as much as you are talked about. Because it’s more than just your media – it’s your society.

The tiny – but vocal – minority who are endlessly peddling half-truths and exaggerated interpretations across the media are unrepresentative of the rest of the country. They are unrepresentative of journalists. You know this. The right response to errors and even injustices in the media, as in every day life, is a clear voice; it is not a shrug of the shoulders and a turn of the page.

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